Curiosity Panoramic images

I know that it is a bit off topic, but I couldn’t resist it.

Finally! high quality images of the Martian terrain. Today’s kids won’t get it, but It is really exciting for someone that had to suffice with Viking’s low quality photo’s from the 1970th as a kid. Note the smaller size of the Sun as seen from mars.

http://www.360cities.net/image/curiosity-rover-martian-solar-day-2

Credit to: Andrew Bodrov

The rise of Blekko and DuckDuckGo

With almost monopolistic market position, 20 billion dollars of income every year, and almost 70% of the search market share in the US Google seems invincible and maybe the last company you would like to start competing with. Nevertheless, recently two new search engines were launched : Blekko and DuckDuckGo. They both currently own a tiny to none existing search share with comparison to Google or Bing but they have both displayed  phenomenal growth (with DuckDuckGo crossing the 1 million searches/per day mark) and have introduced a fresh and innovative approach towards search – Blekko with its slashtags search and DuckDuckGo with its emphasize on privacy. In addition they both demonstrate a “back to basics” approach with the return to the early Google “10 blue links” format.

Blekko Slashtags

(Blekko Slashtags)

Duck Duck Go 10 blue links

(Duck Duck Go back to basics approach)

I won’t discuss here what DDG and Blekko can do feature wise and give feedback on the relevancy of their results. First because I honestly recommend trying them both which will be much better than anything I can write about the experience of – well, trying them :-) But mostly because I want to discuss the reasons because of which in what seems to be a total Google domination two startups decide to jump into the pool.

1. Privacy – With Picasa,Google Web History, Google Docs,Gmail,YouTube,Chrome, Analytics, Android, Wallet, Reader, Google Plus and more – people feel that big G has too much information about them. In addition, currently there are almost no rules or laws that legislate how and where this data is stored and processed. Have you ever given a thought  to where your personal data (emails, searches, clicked search results, visited sites, viewed videos, purchased products and more) is stored? For how long? Who has access to it? What is *exactly* stored? Can you ask for this data to be deleted? Last but not least, private user data has already leaked from Google’s systems either by accident or deliberately when Google has introduced Google Buzz and exposed user data (the 8.5 million $ lawsuit settlement followed.)

2. Relevancy – Google started showing flaws in the core factor that gave the company it’s leading market position in first place. The introduction of the PageRank algorithm in 1998-2000 was a significant and market changing milestone and in fact was the reason because of which people moved from using indexes for finding information online (such as DMOZ) to search engines. However, in recent years people have repeatedly reported deterioration in Google’s search results relevancy and quality. Content farms such as Mahalo and eHow dominated the search results for a lot of queries and threatened to leave the users with crippled, malformed and shallow machine processed results.

3. Misuse – Google aggressively uses it’s monopolistic market position to send more and more traffic to it’s  own web properties – YouTube,Google Books,Google News,PPC results and others. More and more real estate is taken from the organic search results in favor of Google’s products and services. And we are yet to mention Google Plus.

(Credit: seobook.com)

4. Obscurity and middle finger attitude towards webmasters and site owners – if Google introduces best practices and guidelines in 2008-9 and then without warning the same guidelines and principles can be the cause of your site being penalized or totally removed from Google’s index (see the “GET parameters” case) – how can people continue to do business with them?

Google, Google Plus and the Future of SEO

Google has recently started embedding Google Plus in its search results.

Here is how it looks (click to get full size):

Google Plus Google search results

This can have a significant influence on your SEO efforts and make a shift in the way SEO campaigns are planned and executed. Up to recent days doing SEO consisted of two fronts that can be roughly divided and named: “On Page SEO” and “Off Page SEO”. Wheres  “On Page SEO” means optimizing the variables on your HTML page that can influence ranking (keywords, title tag, h tags and etc.) and “Off Page SEO” means link building, optimizing the site’s structure and more. Now, with the introduction of the +1 button and moreover with the significant change of introducing Google Plus into the search results a third front is now open for SEO war – the Social Media front.

Appearing in User’s Google Plus results when they search for your product/service or a generic industry term can potentially become (when Google fully rolls out this feature. Right now this is enabled even if you are not logged in and do not have a Google Plus account only for a small set of keywords) as, or even more important than link building.

This means that SMM departments and specialists will become even more important (hi folks!) due to the fact that in addition to their role as brand ambassadors in the online communities they will also have a major part in bringing organic traffic to your website.

Google Analytics Advanced Segments – Awesome!

I have recently discovered Advanced Segments in Google Analytics.

I’ve embedded a video so you’ll understand  the actual “how-to” of creating and managing Advanced Segments and in the meantime I’ll humbly try to explain “what are” and “what for”are advanced segments.

Advanced segments basically allow you to segment (well, that was kind of obvious ;-)) or in other words to “group” or “devide” the traffic according to your business needs and comfort. That is way cooler than it sounds. For instance imagine you can get ALL analytics data that you currently have for your profile (dashboard,goals, content,conversation rate and etc.) but just for Social Media. Unfamiliar with this type of traffic source? No wonder :-)  It’s a traffic source YOU define with the generous help of advanced segments (just as a side note – there are pre defined segments we can use as well).  For instance I can decide that for the matter social media is when the traffic comes from the following referrals:

twitter.com

linkedin.com

facebook.com

or if I invest heavily in LinkedIn Ads and I don’t believe that I get any “organic” traffic from LinkedIn I can decide that I want to see the stats only for Facebook and Twitter as social media. Then all I have to do is to choose “Social Media” in the top right corner and woilla – I get the same dashboard with a graph, same goal data, same content data but this time just for social media. It’s a great way to know what is going on at the social media front.  Moving forward with the scenario above – if I  tag LinkedIn ads with the proper utm format as cpc (cash per click) I will be able to see the LinkedIn traffic (and the AdWords one if I bid on it) under the  predefined segment called “Paid search”.

Another use case for this can be segmenting the traffic for “Branded search” and “Non-Branded search”. This way you’ll have a powerful insight about the brand awareness you have or don’t have, about what traffic converts better, what traffic contains more new visitors, where you should invest (are we already a brand? if we are, should we still bid on “branded keywords”?) and etc. Don’t forget that you can COMPARE two segments (let’s say all visits and “Branded search” to get great visual representation of how well you are doing.

Make no mistakes, this is much more powerful than creating custom reports or filtering reports. It provides you with much more data that would have required creation of numerous reports to get and in a much more comfortable format.

Basically this is a whole new world you can unfold, try to avoid of course the situation where you get too much data and zero insights. Try to create only meaningful segments that have direct impact on your business, don’t over play it.

My (awful) experience with installing Rails 3.1 on CentOS

Not that long ago I had to choose a solution for a one month project. Not something too complicated: an internal reporting system that grabs some analytics data, combines it with data from a local db table and sends it to a list of recipients (and not to forget the management interface for the whole thing: list of recipients, what to send, when to send and etc.)

I was in doubt what will work better for this job, CodeIgniter (a PHP based framework) or Ruby on Rails.

CodeIgniter

Pros:

1. I have 2 years or so of experience in PHP development. Development from scratch as well as CodeIgniter based development and Joomla based development.

2. CI has EXCELLENT documentation

3. I tend to like it :-)

Cons:

1. I don’t really like PHP as a language (or in my friend’s words: PHP is an excellent preprocessor, too bad it doesn’t have a normal language to work with :-D)

RoR

Pros:

1. CoC,DRY,Scafollding – all those things should shorten the development time.

2. I really like the though behind rails and its implementation :-)

3. I like Ruby as a language.

Cons:

No TRUE experience in RoR development.

So, the decision was made. I’ll try to see how it goes with rails. Won’t spend weeks on it, just to give it a shot.

Damn, I was shot down to earth even before I took off the ground. The installation process of Rails 3.1 on CentOS 5.3 was impossible.

I don’t have an RHCE, but can configure Apache or Samba in production environments. Nevertheless I had to give up in this case. Putting the (relative) difficulty of installing ruby 1.8.7. aside (I can handle this one) the fact that the download of rails 3.1 (as a GEM) got stuck in the middle and I had to manually configure the source url to be an alias of the local machine (while of course manually downloading the relevant files prior to doing this) and the fact that “bundle install” got stuck in the middle when I tried to create a new project in rails – that was a bit too much for me. I’ll deal with the relative yuckiness of PHP. CodeIgniter it is!